Usually the early portion of the season for Duke brings about some non-conference three-game series. This year however, for the first time, Duke will be hosting an early-season tournament on its home turf.
Following suit with many programs across the country, the Blue Devils will host their tournament—the Duke Baseball Classic—this weekend at Jack Coombs Field and the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, N.C. The tournament will be comprised of Duke, La Salle, Akron, and St. Louis with each team playing the others once during the course of the weekend. The Blue Devils’ will face off against La Salle Friday at 3 p.m., Saint Louis Saturday at 1 p.m. and Akron Sunday at 3 p.m. Duke will play all three of its games at Jack Coombs Field.
“It’s something that we had talked about from a sort of philosophical scheduling standpoint,” head coach Chris Pollard said. “If you look out there across the country there are a lot of programs that have kind of adopted this model.”
Originally, the Blue Devils planned to start their Baseball Classic in 2015 and were slated to have a three-game series against Akron at home this weekend. The head coach of La Salle, Mike Lake, ran into some scheduling difficulties and contacted Pollard about the possibility of playing a game this weekend against Duke. At the same time, Saint Louis was facing a similar situation as La Salle and contacted Pollard as well. After speaking to the staff at Akron and the higher-ups at Duke, the team decided to start its new tournament this year instead.
Duke (2-2) has started the season swinging the bat well, scoring five or more runs in each of its first four games. Senior third basemen Jordan Betts has been off to a particularly hot start, hitting .471 through the early stages of the season and driving in seven runs. Redshirt junior right fielder Chris Marconcini is coming off his best outing of the year, in which he reached base safely in all seven plate appearances in the extra-inning loss to UNC-Greensboro. As they gear up to face three teams this weekend instead of just one opponent, the Blue Devils are preparing as they would for any other series.
But for Pollard and the rest of the Duke coaching staff, this weekend presents a unique early-season challenge.
“From a coaching standpoint you have to prepare differently because we’re used to putting together a scouting report for one team for a weekend, and now we’ve got to put together three reports for three different teams,” Pollard said. “I think our guys like it. Early in the year you want to play some different people. Each team you play you learn from…. That whole process is going to make us better going into ACC play.”
Each of the three teams that Duke will face has gotten off to rough starts. After upsetting No. 21 Alabama in the opening game of a three-game set, Saint Louis (1-2) dropped its next two games to the Crimson Tide. Akron (0-2) was swept in its season-opening doubleheader against Winthrop. La Salle (0-3) was swept in its season-opening series against Campbell.
According to Pollard, junior Trent Swart will likely get the nod to start in the opening game Friday against La Salle, and the Blue Devils will likely keep the order of starters they played last weekend. This would put sophomore Michael Matuella—reigning ACC Pitcher of the week—on the mound against Saint Louis and sophomore James Marvel finishing up the tournament against Akron.
The Blue Devils have also gone with various lineups through their first four games, and Pollard plans to continue keeping some variety in his lineup cards this weekend.
“We tried some different lineups while [redshirt senior outfielder] Ryan Deitrich was out with the injury,” Pollard said. “Barring any setbacks he’ll be back in the lineup this weekend, which adds another option for us. So I look for us to use some different combinations again this weekend as we attempt to find the right chemistry going into ACC play.”
With the start of ACC play just two weeks away, the first annual Duke Baseball Classic will play a vital role in the Blue Devils early development. They will look to correct the mistakes they made in their first four games and find the right formulas to succeed this season. Duke is trying to finish above .500 overall for the first time since the 2010 season and above .500 in conference games for the first time since 1994.